Sunday, January 30, 2011
One of TV's most exciting hours of the season comes up on Discovery Canada Sunday night at 8.
Assault And Rescue: Operation Thunderball is a dynamic new Canadian-made docudrama documenting the events that led to the spectacular capture of over 100 hostages in Uguanda in 1976.
And this special can also be enthusiastically recommended because it was made by Canada's Frantic Films.
The actual events can be easily summed up: on June 27, 1976, an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to France was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists.
There were 246 passengers and a dozen crew on board (more than half of them Israeli citizens) and the terrorists ordered the crew to fly the plane to Uguanda's Entebbe airport.
But here's where the new soecial becomes fascinating. Until recently the ten leaders of the Israeli antiterrorist squad who put together a plan to rescue the victims had been ordered not to talk under the strictest secirity terms. Now almost 35 years later they've just been given the green light to talk open;y about the mission.
It's the brilliance of this program that they methodically lay out their plans, discuss their flight into uguanda and also reconstruct what happened on the ground when they hit the airport at night.
It tuirned into the greatest hostage liberation in history.
The first question from the Israelis was a simple one: "Where the hell is Entebbe?" And there was an acknowledgement that the Israeli team was equipped to serve only in the immediate area. Entebbe was far from their normal base of operations and Egypt and Saudi Arabia were then unfriendly powers who would not allow flights over their territory.
There was no other option but to try and forcibly liberate the hostages. This meant using a Hercules air transport plane which could make the journey but would need to be refueled at some point. And only one Israeli veteran pilot could command such a plane: Joshua Shani tells how he was called away from a wedding at Haifa and told about the dangerous mission.
Surprise and concealment were the two necessary strategies. The plane would have to fly low down the Red Sea to avoid Egyptian and Saudi Arabian radar and then turn in over Eritrea which had no radar facilities.
Everything had to be accomplished in an hour because the Uguandan army would surely be alerted by that time. And it had to be a nightime operation for cover --there was the hope the airport runway lights might still be on.
The recollections of the soldiers are exciting but dramatic reconstruction of key scenes makes this one a virtual must see.
Entebbe defined the might of the Israeli nation and its success stopped air hijacking in that country.
Assault And Rescue is more exciting than a dozen action films and that's simply because it's all so very true.
ASSAULT AND RESCUE PREMIERS ON DISCOVERY SUND. JAN. 30 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
When The Devil Knocks is a brand new documentary about a courageous woman with multiple personality disorder.
Oh, you know --Joanne Woodward winning her Oscar in 1957's The Three Faces Of Eve. At least that's what I first thought.
I also remember being on the set of another of those dramas --this one a TV miniseries -- with the tables turned as Woodward was the psychiatrist and Sally Field the girl with many personalities. The title was Sybil (1976).
But that was showbiz. When The Devil Knocks is the real stuff.
It's less melodramatic but a whole lot scarier just because this is the unvarnished truth.
And these days it's called Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Vancouver filmmaker Helen Slinger got unlimited access to more than 40 hours of videotape of one subject (Hilary Stanton).
Stanton appears as a reserved, greying prairie housewife, seemingly introverted, with three children from a broken marriage.
Under the expert coaching of therapist Cheryl Malmo many other personalities began percolating forth until the number hits 35.
This hour profile looks at the effects on Stanton of the major figures who pop up again and again.
Until she hit her Forties Stanton seemed to think it was normal to have gigantic gaps in her memory.
Her daughter says coming home from school she'd often find another personality instead of mother Hilary present. The most demanding was the assertive Mary but there was also the little girl Hil and the outdoorsy young guy Tim.
Hilary grew up on a farm isolated from other families. Neglected by her mother and the last child in a big family she was subjected to abuse from the man who lived next door and frequently forced her to stay over for the night.
Places in the family barn became shelters as well as hiding places.
Another way of hiding out and coping with her horrific life was for other facets of her personality to come forward to protect her and shield her from the truth.
The tapes that were made are of remarkably high quality. Stanton's hair turns grey over the years but everything else is static: the comfy chair she sits in, the ritual of taking off her glasses, the sudden emergence of somebody else inside her.
Slinger directs in a flawless style that forces us to go on these journeys with Hilary no matter how uncomfortable we may feel.
This is also an examination of the art of the therapist as Cheryl Malmo coaxes remembrances from the different characters and stiches together what actually happened.
Some scenes are dramatized with actors standing in for Mary, Tim and Hill but that only makes the film compulsively watchable. And we see Hilary gradually changing over the years to the point she can actually visit the gravesite of her long dead tormentor and prepare for a second marriage.
And who is the strongest woman here: at first glance it's quiet Hilary who needs to effect closure.
But she couldn't achieve this without the steady, intense prodding of Malmo who knows when to press a point and when to let Stanton make the deductions for itself.
WHEN THE DEVIL KNOCKS PREMIERES ON CBC-TV's THE PASSIONATE EYE WED. JAN. 26 AT 10 P.M.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.
Monday, January 24, 2011
In the U.S. a whole lot of sponsors are pulling out of MTV's new series Skins which is all about teenagers hooked on sex and drugs.
Subway is the latest ccompany to pull its ads after Taco Bell and Wrigley gum also left.
The American based Parent Television Council had urged members to contact the series' sponsors and asking the federal U.S. government to investigate the show for child pornography.
But in Canada?
Well, Skins debuted last week --but up here it runs on the advertising free cable channel The Movie Network Mondays at 10 p.m..
I checked out the preview episode and I can see why the shouting has started.
First of all Skins isn't the only TV series dealing with adolescents and sex. Think Gossip Girl. Think One Tree Hill. The difference is that on these glossy prime time soaps the actors playing high schoolers are all over 20 and some are nearer to 30.
Skins doesn't use actors --it recruited real teens and let them behave as same as the raucous teens we often spot on the subway. It's this dash of reality that is truly shocking.
There's nothing pretty about Skins. In Gossip Girl the wealthy youngsters prance around in coutourier duds. The gals are freshly made up with every blemish hidden.
These special adolescents make out but without any consequences --no sexual diseases or unwanted pregnancies.
So which series is more real?
On Skins we're getting an eyeful of bad behavior. These are suburban teens out of control (the series was actually filmed in Toronto).
The New York Times calls it a flagrant display of child pornography.
It seems to be the very youth of these participants that is causing some degree of mental anguish. Some of these "actors" really are only 15.
I'm told that the premiere episode was almost a scene for scene remake of the original British show -- if that's true it explains some odd social behavior that might be more appropriate in British society.
I'll grant the show is racy. But it's not sexy at all. These kids are completely mixed up --one of the girls gets stoned and then tries to cut people around her.
One of the lads spends his time trying to get laid and falls afoul of a dangerous drug dealer.
Tony is the lead teen and he deliberately keeps his dad from using the one bathroom in the house every morning. At school he's especially solicitous about pal Stanley, a blondie with a virginity problem.
Maybe the series worked better in Britain. The antics of these kids seem somewhat dispirited. The suburban streets they inhanit are always deserted as if in a dream.
But the series wasn't made for me.
MTV on both sides of the border is selling a life style. And it plainly is too realistic for younger viewers hooked on the glam of Gossip Girl to truly care.
The teens on Skins need professional help. So whatever Skins is peddling it's not child pornography.
SKINS RUNS ON THE MOVIE NETWORK MONDAYS AT 10 P.M.
MY RATING: **1/2.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Last January the New Zealand made series Spartacus debuted on U.S. TV and became an instant hit --the kind of TV that could only be described as the ultimate guilty pleasure. The Movie Network picked it up in Canada.
Freed from network restrictions this one was awash in decapitations, lesbian and gay sex, wall to wall nudity.
The real secret was the star, former model Andy Whifield, trained as a model, who was a Thracian captured in battle and trained at gladiatorial college.
Also in it were Lucy Lawless as Lucretia and John Hannah as Batiatus and both of them fighting off cases of the giggles. Hannah's Scottish accent kept popping forth and Lawless bared her breasts to combat boredom.
Then Whitfield came down with cancer and the producers substituted this lame brained prequel which would show us the characters years before Spartacus.
It was intended as a six-episode stopgap until Whitfield returned from cancer treatment. But, alas, he's back in hospital with a return of the disease --a new hero will be substituted for next year's story line.
Gods Of The Arena opens with stock footage of Whitfield who is never seen again. In the closing credits, however, he even gets first billing.
There's been a new gladiator substituted in the person of Aussie actor Dustin Clare. He's perfectly fine but Whitfield is really missed. Continuing a series without the lead has always been a tricky deal.
The show was mostly Whitfield. Without him it drags badly. There's not much point except to use the expensive exteriors one more time.
Ratings should droop big time --but it's only on for six weeks.
SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA PREMIERES ON THE MOVIE NETWORK SUND. JAN. 24 AT 10 P.M.
MY RATING: ** 1/2.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Now this is going to be a real star interview, I thought, as I was led into the hotel suite of Wendy Malick, the compulsively funny star of last season's big sitcom hit Hot In Cleveland.
But Malick had tossed herself on the bed with her coat over her, clearly in some discomfort.
The onset of a cold, I was told, and she plainly sounded hoarse and stuffy.
CTV had flown her in for a day of interviews and since I was last on the list she insisted on plunging on. Now that's sheer professionalism.
Besides, her parents had come in from her hometown of Buffalo and they were waiting for her.
She looked up when I mentioned I'd met her before --on the set of the short-lived 1983 series Trauma Center.
As I remember it had a great cast --including James Naughton, Dorian Harewood and Eileen Heckhart but this hospital saga couldn't decide if it wanted to be St. Elsewhere or a medical Hill Street Blues.
"They added Lou Ferrigno," Malick explained. "And it turned into Hulk time...he's a great guy but we were hoping for another kind of series,you know?"
NBC obliged by canceling the series after just 13 episodes But the experience didn't sour Malick on TV at all.
To the contrary she's since notched over 100 credits as guest star and star on everything from Kate And Allie to The Fanelli Boys to a seven episode dabble on Baywatch to co-star status on Dream On..
"I like to work, no doubt about it," she smiles. "I'd rather be out there exercising my acting skills than waiting for the perfect part."
Which means she's toiled on TV in both Vancouver and Toronto.
"A lot. And I'm sometimes confused about whether I shot something here or in Vancouver."
One credit I remember because I was on the set that day: Zoe Busiek:Wild Card shot in Toronto's east end.
But the perfect continuing part did come along on Just Shoot Me and it ran for 149 episodes (1997-2003) as Malick scored heavily as irrepresible Nina Van Horne.
"Great cast. We all liked each other and it was such a happy companyt.. So many people got married on that set. But after seven seasons it was time to say goodbye.
"No spinoffs for Nina. Her time had come."
Malick scored again in Frasier's last season as Ronee Lawrence and even wound up marring John Mahoney in the series finale.
And now along comes Hot In Clevaland which runs on cable in the U.S. (TV Land) but garners a weekly rating higher than some regular network shows.
In the first new episode of the season 89-years young Betty White stars as Elka who finds herself sharing a jail cell with --who else but Mary Tyler Moore her old sitcom pal from 40 years ago.
We'll also learn how the romance of Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli) is going and what happened to the fortune of Victoria (Malick) and the deportation squabbles of Joy (Jane Leeves).
All four of these "golden girls" actresses sport solid sitcom roots and it shows in they way they gleefully interact with the studio audience.
Hot In Cleveland has been compared to comfort food and Mallick nods in agreement --it sports all the old fashioned virtues of such sitcoms as Mary Tyler Moore and All In The Family while delivering solid laughs.
"Last year we ran for 10 episodes," Malick says. "It was a try out. Now we're up to 20. We shoot three then have a week hiatus for the writers to get caught up.. The other girls, they just slay me with their humor. We shoot one episode a week before an audience on the very lot where Betty thrived with Mary. It's like a coming home party for us all."
The thing is the writers do not want to break new ground --they simply want to entertain. And there isn't a weak link in this foursome. "They are very competitive, always trying to crack me up and it often works,"Malick admits.
"I've got a showy part but Victoria isn't such a caricature. I've met some of these soap divas and after 35 years on the same show they can act an awful like the way Victoria acts. Honest they can."
THE SECOND SEASON OF HOT IN CLEVELAND PREMIERES ON CTV MOND. FEB. 24 AT 8 P.M. AND ON FRID. JAN 28 AT 8 P.M. ON THE COMEDY NETWORK.
Monday, January 17, 2011
So is Piers Morgan all set to take over from Larry King as CNN's favorite chat host?
Somehow I just don't think the British newspaper editor will last.
Last night's first episode was a snooze festival as the two kept patting each other on the backs.
Morgan's choice of Oprah Winfrey was bland and predictable and she directed the interview never once letting Morgan pierce her formidable talk armor.
Why Oprah? She's on TV every morning and now has her own network. wasn't this a case of over exposure?
Morgan seemed awed by the event and the setting in a hotel room didn't help much anyhow.
When King reigned supreme --the stars and the politicians came to him (save for Brando and Streisand).
Oprah pronounced "You're good" as if offering a papal benediction.
She told him once not to go there --the subject was her best friend.
In other words she took over. What news value was there here?
The one time King met with TV critics he claimed rival talkers were over prepared. He never read up on his subjects and used street talk to bering guests down to his level, he boasted.
At his peak he was unstoppable but in the past few years seemed enfeebled by declining health and old age.
The bigger question concerns the future of the hour long talk show.
King was the first on a news network but now Fox is all talk and no news. Talk is everywhere.
It's the same with the Tonight Show. When Carson was there he was a must see. With the audience increasingly fragmented it's a case of who cares if it's Conan or Leno?
The competition to get guests is now fierce. King was still pulling them in at the end because he had a certain cachet.
Morgan with his veddy British accent won't excite the great American heartland --and his questions about cricket seemed to merely annoy Oprah.
Morgan laughed nervously too often. He realized he wasn't making it. It was dudsville the first night out.
Pretaping the show gave it a flat, forced look. CNN is supposed to be a news network not a talk network. There wa absolutely sno news on this first episode.
CNN already has made a bad decision with Parker/Spitzer starring two talented anchors who obviously have nothing in common. Low ratings have followed.
Morgan isn't likely to get CNN's falling ratings back on track.
Tuning in at 9 to King was a tradition. He was a familiar face who commented on the day's politics in a non-threatening way. Simply stated Morgan's not American. Viewers won't be comfortable getting his take on U.S. affairs, I'm afraid.
Crumpets and tea anyone?
I have to admit it. But don't let it get around.
I did watch The Golden Globes Sunday night.
Well, not all of the slow moving awards which went on for three solid hours.
I dozed a bit, read a book, did the laundry.
And I watched. Parts.
I never take awards shows seriously and neither should you.
Remember Luise Rainer won two Academy Awards --that's two more than non-winners Edward G. Robinson (never nominated), Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy and even Greta Garbo.
The Golden Globes must live down doling out awards to the likes of Pia Zadora and Esther Williams.
And this year such critical stinkers as The Tourist and Burlesque were actually up for honors.
But I watched for the stars. We get to see them up close and personal, all decked out in finery and recent face lifts, a couple of drinks under their belts.
At the Oscars they're hidden in the darkness of a gigantic auditorium. At the Globes they're at tables,instantly more accessible.
Some of the presenters including Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry looked properly glamourous. Others like Helen Mirren were not dressed properly.
Michael Douglas got a warm reception after a long battle with throat cancer. Bobby DeNiro got a lifetime achievement thing --has he really made 70 movies?
Zac Efron was there with his new haircut but who was that gal pal with him. I couldn't quite see.
Some of the oldsters like Warren Beatty looked like they wished they were elsewhere.
Angelina Jolie was caught applying lip gloss.
The Social Network ran all over The King's Speech although King's Speech star Colin Firth deservedly won as best actor.
Glee picked up awards and Laura Linney wasn't there to get her award --was she working or what?
Ricky Gervaise was funny as the host for a bit.
It was fun of a kind but so very overlong. It could all be boiled down to a two minute clip on You Tube. It probably has been by now.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
What a thrill it was to reach Susannah York on the phone at her home in England --she'd agreed to a quick interview in 1991 to promote the British series Trainers which cast her in a big, juicy character part.
The beautiful and talented actress succumbed to cancer on Jan. 14, aged 72.
York insisted that she'd never wanted to be a film star.
"The theatah was always my goal.But to make some money I took the part of Alec Guinness's daughter in the 1960 movie Tunes Of Glory. And, of course, Alec completely wowed me with his skills and I could see that acting for films wasn't as bad as I'd expected. I was all of 22 so what did I know?"
The very next year she got great notices in the little seen British film The Greengage Summer wonderfully as a 16-year-old falling for older man Kenneth More in the lush French countryside. "Confidentially I thought it should have been Dirk Bogarde instead of Kenneth but there you have it. Rumer Godden wrote the original novel. Dannielle Darrieux was splendid as his lesbian mistress, she so reeked of authenticity. Lewis Gilbert directed it but no one but you has ever asked me about it."
But it was 1963's Tom Jones that made her a star. "Oh, I just didn't want to do it, thought it silly. The director Tony Richardson came over to my flat with his wife Vanessa Redgrave and they just pestered me until I said yes. And it was this huge hit winning the Oscar as best picture."
For the next decade she acted opposite really big stars: Bill Holden (The 7th Dawn), Warren Beatty (Kaleidoscope), Paul Scofield (A Man For All Seasons), Dirk Bogarde (Sebastian), Laurence Olivier (Battle Of Britain) ending with an Oscar nomination as supporting actress for They Shoot Horses Don't They(1969).
"On that won I knew I wouldn't win and I didn't. But I really didn't think I was that good anyway."
She drifted into TV work including Prince Regent (1979), We'll Meet again (1982), Devices And Desires (1992) in between some variable movie roles opposite Peter O'Toole (Country Dance), George C. Scott (Jane Eyre), Liz Taylor (Zee And Co.), and Richard Dreyfuss (Images).
"Oh, I also did The Love Boat. Twice! Don't forget that,"she jokes.
She had a Canadian connection, she insisted. It was the 1979 film The Silent Partner with Chris Plummer and Elliott Gould. And years after we talked she journeyed to Montreal to make the Book Of eve opposite Claire Bloom.
Did she mind she was no longer the dewey, young star?
"No! I've been Superman's mom, let anybody equal that! And the roles have been very different, I wanted to try anything and I guess I have. It did hurt my career. I could have gone on playing the blonde girl friend but that wasn't where I wanted to go."
She suddenly rang off because her daughter was shouting about supper.
Susannah York last acted in two British series in 2010 in guest roles: on Doctors and Missing.
She'll certainly be missed.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Sometimes it seems Canadian TV is jam packed with simulcasts of American shows.
And then along comes something as important as Great Canadian Bios's new profile of Gordon Pinsent titled Still Rowdy After All These Years.
It's virtually a must-see hour biography of the great Canadian actor who proved a home grown career can be the most fulfilling of all.
In past times such a profile would have wound up on CBC (and indeed CBC's Life And Times saluted Pinsent a decade ago).
But with CBC out of the culture game here's Bravo!'s chance to step up to the plate.
Writer-director Barbara Doran has assembled a dazzling array of clips as well as reminiscences from co-workers including producer Perry Rosemond, producer Larry Dane (The Rowdyman), Andy Jones, and Pinsent's two grown children from his first marriage.
It begins on the set of the currently running Pillars Of Earth which was filming in Vienna and shows Pinsent in august company and at 80 at the peak of his game.
His childhood years are beautifully covered --growing up in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, he'd take the train to Gander airport to watch all the Hollywood stars passing through en route to Europe. And he swears Bob Hope talked right to him when he was eight.
But watching all those Hollywood movies at the cinema convinced him he had to get into the business and after a stint in the Canadian army he started acting in Winnipeg where he married and had two children-- he left them when the boy was five and the girl was three. Reconciled decades later, both evoke bittersweet memories of that parting.
The clips are plentiful: from the pivotal movie The Rowdyman (1971), of course and the later John And The Missus (1984) but also his CBC star series: Quentin Durgens, M.P. (1966) and A Gift To Last (1979) --I first interviewed him on the set of that one.
I've interviewed him since in the CBC atrium and in a pool hall on Carlton St. with daughter Leah --I think it was for the miniseries Win Again which wasn't mentioned here --the time problem I'm guessing. Pinsent can also get peeved when provoked --as witness his hasty exit from Wind At My back when he deemed the scripts inferior.
And his defeat in Hollywood is well covered by a clip from Blackula (1972) --Pinsent got typecast down there and couldn't use his other talents as writer and director.
His long marriage to Charmion King is well documented and their daughter Leah pointedly fills in some blanks. She says they separated at least four times because of his philandering. Char as we all called her was quite an actress in her own right --try to catch her 1998 turn as Mary Pickford on the Canadian history series Witness To Yesterday.
But there's his towering performance in Away From Her which reminded us what a gifted actor he can be given the right part.
Pinsent fully cooperated here and his own comments are sometimes piquant and sometimes very funny. And here he is still with us and still contributing to an amazing body of work.
I've always envisaged a sequel miniseries to Quentin Durgens with Leah as his daughter who has inherited his seat and needs help from her father during a particularly bruising political scandal. I still think it would work.
Still Rowdy After All These Years emerges as a model of the TV biography. Having such an important subject makes all the difference.
STILL ROWDY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS PREMIERES ON BRAVO! SUN. JAN. 16 at 8 PM WITH AN ENCORE SAT. JAN. 22 AT 7 PM.
MY RATING: ****.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I was glad to get the opportunity to interview David Nelson even if it was only a phoner. In 1995 Nelson's old series The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet was finally rerun on Canadian TV --on the Family Channel and he agreed to being interviewed, a chore he confessed he mostly loathed.
Here's an edited transcript of our talk:
Q: So David thanks for talking. But I'm wondering why reruns of Ozzie And Harriet never hit Canadian TV before now.
DN: Because the family owned the American rights and foreign rights were sold off. I've been getting letters all along from Canadians who could watch from a U.S. border station. But in movies "domestic rights" means both Canada and the U.S. So there was a stand off until now.
Q: When Ozzie And Harriet originally debuted on radio there were different actors than you and Ricky.
DN: Yes and I can remember watching them do the radio show which was live and wanting to get right in there. When TV came along Rick and I just pestered our parents to let us play ourselves. By this time I was in high school so I had to occasionally skip classes. But most of the time I was in school and so was Rick and we had tutors sometimes to play catch up. I did all the sports, too, because I would have dropped acting before dropping sports.
Q: Was there any confusion between your real and reel lives?
DN: None. Dad was not the Ozzie Nelson you see on TV. He was in real life a pepper pot. Which is why he died young. He directed most of the shows himself. During the lunch break he'd go next door and look in on Our Miss Brooks or whatever else was filming. He'd offer suggestions and stroll on. We made two episodes a week, no audience, a rehearsal and then a take with multiple cameras. And he surrounded us with laugh masters.
DN: Don DeFore was in the first four years as a neighbor named Thorny. He was succeeded by Lyle Talbot as another friend named Joe Talbot. Gordon Jones was in and out pretty quickly as I recall. Later Skip Young was around as my buddy Wally --he lasted 10 years. I'm remembering Mary Jane Croft, Parley Baer, the names I'm conjuring up is astounding.
Q: And who made debuts on the show?
DN: I know James Stacey was around for years as one of the students. Linda Evans started there, I think. Kent McCord later told me it was his first stuff. Barry Livingston was there --he went over to My Three Sons. Others I remember are Diane Jergens, Roberta Shore, Tuesday Weld --we had some beautiful young girls around.
NOTE: One of the names mentioned by David once told me Ozzie was a bit of a lecher but I did not dare ask David for a comment.
Q: But you four were supposed to be the great American family.
DN: Like all families we quarreled off camera on occasion. On set it was business or the crew would be going into overtime. It was study the lines, gulp down some chow, get back to school for classes. Being kids Rick and I would fool around on the set and get our knuckles rapped. Mom was hardly an average mom. At home she had staff to do cooking and cleaning. She was too busy acting! Now that I look at the episodes I think what a beauty she was. She was always immaculately groomed. She never got over Dad's death, he was the leader of this family.
Q: Did you enjoy teen hunkdom?
DN: It wasn't my style, I was too shy. But Ricky came along and he could sing and fill arenas and that took the pressure off me thankfully. And he became so popular the show lasted far more seasons than originally projected.
Dad was rarely home --he supervised casting, editing, scripts, so he was a perpetual ball of energy.
Q: Why do you think the show lasted so long (1952-66)?.
DN: Because of Dad's drive for perfection. He also had great help --Leo Pepin was associate producer, the chief cinematographer for the longest time was Rob Moreno,we had Monty Westmore for makeup for quite a stretch, If Dad felt he could rely on someone he'd keep him on for the duration.
Q: What episode caused the most commotion?
DN: When I'm leaving home to get married and Dad comes over and kisses me. It shook everybody up because it was so heartfelt.
Q: What is the most asked question you get about the show?
DN (chuckling): Oh, I think you know. It's what occupation did Ozzie have. He was always at home in his sweater. I just assumed he was still a band leader and TV always was catching him on down times.
Q: You directed episodes and later directed Ozzie's Girls in 1975.
DN: I directed 12 shows and had to be on my toes with Dad always asking what lens I'd use there. Ozzie's Girls was a bit sad --it didn't make it because Dad would just not move with the times. So it seemed to come from another era.
Q: Both you and Rick had outside acting gigs.
DN: I had a small role in Peyton Place as Hope Lange's fiancee. And because I could do stunts I was in The Big Show in 1959. But I was too introverted to be a good actor. And I was typecast. You know I wasn't really playing myself. At school I was tongue tied.
Q: Then came directing.
DN: I did some episodes of Adam-12 as well as such TV films as Death Screams and Rare Breed. These days the company makes commercials which are every bit as stressful as a day on the set of Ozzie And Harriet.
NOTE: David Nelson died of colon cancer aged 74 on Jan. 11,2011 in Century City..
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Masterpiece Theatre and I --we really go back.
I first donned my TV critic's hat in 1970 and in January, 1971, Masterpiece Theatre was born.
Starting in 1973 to her untimely death in 1985 the producer was the ever enthusiastic Joan Wilson for PBS's Boston affiliate WGBH and she managed to secure rights to some very fine British TV miniseries --WGBH often invested in these productions before filming had ever started.
To answer an oft asked question yes Canadian TV did manage a toehold. In 1988 the CBC TV flick Glory Enough For All about the discovery of insulin played successfully.
But that meant much trying --CBC head honchos took their prized possession --CBC's new TV serial Jalna (197-72)--down to Boston to screen for Wilson.
She hated it she told me in a moment she probably wished was off the record. Because I duly quoted her and all heck broke loose at CBC.
Finally, Canadian producers would turn to the more lucrative market of making shows for private American producers.
The first title to run was The First Churchills (1971) starring John Neville (now a Toronto resident) and Susan Hampshire.
Then came The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, Elizabeth R, I, Claudius and Upstairs, Downstairs.
It was with Upstairs, Downstairs that I snagged my first exclusive interview --with creator Jean Martsh. Still with the Hamilton Spectator, I took a bus to Buffalo to interview her as she made her way across the U.S. as part of a membership drive.
And now she's all set to launch Part 2 of Upstairs, Downstairs which reopens in 1936 later in the season.
A few months later I got time with actor Simon Williams who played the wayward son James Bellamy in US/DS and was then starring in a touring play at Toronto's Royal Alex theater.
The PR in those days was New York veteran Frank Goodman who ran a tight ship with wige Arlene. Forced to pay his own way for a reception room to promote the British miniseries Edward And Mrs. Simpson with Edward Fox, he kept making notches on the scotch bottles just to ensure critics did not go overboard in the drinks department.
But he always delivered on his promises to round up talent.
Once Frank phoned me at home and shouted "Dame Wendy Hiller has been waiting for you to phone her for the past hour!" But he had forgotten to phone me and it took all my soothing skills to calm her down when I dialed her number.
In Los Angeles I remember sharing tea for two with Dame Diana Rigg just before she was named as hostess of Mystery. I feared she might be formidable. Instead she was funny and diffident and we've talked several times since.
On another occasion Frank arranged a telephone interview with Clive Owen just before he was about to break out as the hot new leading man --that was for the drama Second Sight. Owen was shy and personable, two traits which make him such a fine actor.
One of the most unexpected phoners was with Juliet Stenson then starring in The Politician's Wife --she explained her tardiness in phoning: "The girl at the Globe said not to phone because The Star was the tiniest of the Toronto papers." Goodman found out about this prank --In truth it was the other way around--and blasted the smaller morning paper.!
In later years Frank would round up a gaggle of incoming Masterpiece stars each summer during the TV critics press tour and stage a gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
By this time Mobil Oil paid all the bills and the festivities were truly costly. Mobil liked to present each critic with a huge glass papweight and I still have some:Nicholas Nickleby, Edward And Mrs. Simpson. Today they're collectibles.
Frank always arranged a seat for me beside one of the visiting British stars. One year it was Charles Dance (The Jewel In The Crown), the next it was John Duttine (To Serve Them All My Days), another time it was Francesca Annis (Partners In Crime), another time Patricia Hodge (She-Devil).
But once Vincent Price joined as Mystery host I'd sit between him and his inimitable wife Coral Browne.
It was a big thrill to sit next to my favorite British star John Thaw (Morse) once at a dinner at the Universal Hilton. Another night was reserved for a very boozy evening with Jeremy Brett of Sherlock Holmes fame. I had afternoon tea with Hercule Poirot's David Suchet, such a tiny man in person. In the same lobby I once held hands with Prime Suspects's Helen Mirren. Oh, it's not what you're thinking --she was very nervous about being interviewed, that's all.
People are always asking me why Prime Suspect ran on Masterpiece Theater and not Mystery.
Mobil Oil said times had become tough and the company could only afford to advertise on Masterpiece Theatre or Mystery that season. Whatever one WGBH picked (it was MT) then Prime Suspect would haver to run there.
For me Alistair Cooke as host set just the right tone and nobody could really replace him. I wish they'd chosen as replacement Julie Andrews as that supreme embodiment of Britishness.
Today the show's name is simply Masterpiece. Few of the productions can live up to that title although most simply offer a jolly good time from the Old Company.
And the fact that the quality has been kept up is due to one person: executive producer Rebecca Eaton.
I hope MT lasts for decades to come but public broadcasting is currently under the gun. One well intentioned but culturally illiterate PBS president even tried running it on another night only to fail miserably.
Even the advent of BBC Canada hasn't dimmed my fondness for the original.
Happy 40th Birthday Masterpiece Theatre!
Sunday, January 9, 2011
I try my darndest not to watch reality TV series.
Because they're not real and because everything is hyped to the nth degree.
But I'm making an exception for Storm Chasers which returns Wednesday for ten more action packed episodes.
The way I figure it is this: how can actual tornadoes be made up in any way shape or form.
There are two teams of antagonistic storm chasers out there in this group profile and they're competitive as all heck.
One is headed by extreme chaser Reed Timmer and his gang of Chris Chittick and wary driver Joel Taylor.
And the other crew is headed by IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey and his vehicle that looks like a tank --it's a TIV(Tornado Incept Vehicle).
And the way I'm thinking there must be two more teams from Discovery to record the antics of the two storm chasers, right?
We catch up with both teams in the spring as the tornado season starts to heat up.
Both teams are often after film of the same storm and they're very competitive. But it's the human touch that makes us keen to see how each team fares.
Casey has to tell one trusted employee he's being relegated to the "B" team this year because they just aren't communicating because Casey must make the final decisions what storms to pursue and when to hold back.
Timmer is far more of a vocal enthusiast, ready to have Taylor drive 14 hours across the Southwestern U.S. if tornado warnings are strong enough.
And I'm not giving anything away by stating that the latest series is dedicated to Matt Hughes who passed away on May 26, 2010 at age 30, a suicide.
So human tensions are frequently at a boiling point. In many cases it's a split second decision whether coverage can be provided of a tornado touching down.
The first new episode has its fair share of thrills and dangerous moments --the driver must know when to pull away to prevent loss of life.
And it ends as Timmer and gang drive from Amarillo, Texas, to Yazoo, Missippi in their marathon search for a gigantic twister that leaves dead bodies scattered around the debris.
Their intitial race to shoot footage of the gigantic tornado quickly turns into a race to save lives.
THE NEW SEASON OF STORM CHASERS PREMUERES ON DISCOVERY WED. JAN. 12 AT 10 P.M.
MY RATING: ***.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
No doubt about it Anne Francis sported the sexiest mole in Hollywood history.
And I should know --I sat across a luncheon table from the orchidaceous actress at Toronto's Four Season's hotel in 1982 as she enjoyed a break from filming the TV movie Mazes And Monsters.
Francis's death this week from cancer went undererported in most newspapers. A terrifically talented actress, she deserved much more appreciation of her dramatic talents.
The star of this TV opus was a very young and callow guy by the name of Tom Hanks. Other young punks included Wendy Crewson, Chris Makepeace and Tom Johnson.
The parents were played by the likes of Francis, Susan Strasberg, Louise Sorel, Lloyd Bochner.
But Francis also possessed a sense of humor.
"Of course I've been in Toronto before!" she beamed. "Didn't you catch me in The Littlest Hobo which I made here about twp years back?'
Up close Francis was a real dazzler. She was 53ish when we met but completely wrinkle free. One critic hailed her as "one tall, cool drink of water" but she was much more than a splash or two.
"Been at this game for ever so long," she laughed. As a girl of 11 she played in the original 1941 Broadway production of Lady In The Dark opposite the great Gertrude Lawrence.
"Started out as a model at age 6. I already knew who I was going to be. But it was years and years later before Hollywood called."
Darryl F. Zanuck of Twentieth Century-Fox spotted her as a sexy delinquent in the 1950 B flick So Young So Bad.
"And he put me into Lydia Bailey (1951) and Elopment (1952) opposite Clifton Webb whom I worshipped. One of the greats."
"A year after I left Fox he demanded Zanuck rehire me as his daughter in the 1952 comedy film Dreamboat. He and Ginger Rogers played two old silent stars whose flickers are resurrected on TV's Late Show and they become famous all over again."
But it was at MGM that Francis found herself. "I was opposite Spence Tracy in Bad Day At Black Rock, then came Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Glenn Ford, then Forbidden Planet (1956) opposite my favorite leading man, Robbie the Robot."
But Francis says she got typecast as a glamourous blonde. "I wanted to direct and the MGM brass howled in laughter."
Anne never became a super duper star --Debbie Reynolds who wasn't as pretty or as talented dramatically zoomed past her in audience appeal and Anne had to settle for TV work.
Take a look at her work in a chilling 1959 episode of Twilight Zone titled "The After Hours" --cast as a Marsha White, trapped on the 9th floor of an eight-storey department store until she realizes she is really a mannequin who comes alive for one brief night. Creepy and sexy, Francis is terrific.
And she showed her muscles as TV's Honey West (1965) where she added karate chops to her usual glamour formula --the series has recently been released on DVD.
Francis then concentrated on TV movies and made a slew of them: The Rebels (1979), Beggarman, Thief (1979), O'Malley (1980), Detour To Terror (1980) as and also had stints on such hits as Dallas and Charlie's Angels.
Her last batch of films found her as leading lady to Don Knotts (The Love God) and Jerry Lewis (Hook, Line And Sinker).
Cast opposite Barbra Streisand in 1968's Funny Girl she so dominated her scenes Streisand had her part slashed down to a cameo in retaliation.
Producer Steven J. Cannell told me he was heartbroken having to fire Francis from the cast of Riptide (1984) but NBC demanded more action and less characterization.
But Francis soldiered on guesting on everything from Drew Carey to Nash Bridges to her last, a 2004's appearance on Without A Trace.
Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, she bravely fought back, had an operation to remove a lung and finally died of pancreatic cancer.
The day we met she gave me an autographed copy of her 1982 memoir Voices From Home which outlined her deeply felt metaphysical beliefs. "Dear Jim: What wonderful fun meeting you. Go well!" she wrote with a flourish.
Anne Francis combined beauty and a love for life --a rare and winning combination.
We're well into Week One of the mid-seaon TV fare and already this constant viewer wants out.
There are only so many mediocre new series I can sample without deja viewing setting in.
And then along comes this nugget called Cat Crazed, Maureen Palmer's new hour documentary that starts out all cute and cuddly but veers suddenly into more serious fare: the over population of feral cats every which way.
As a kid living summers on Toronto's Wards Island I'd leave scraps out for the feral cats every night and there were hundreds of them living under the cottages and piers.
One day most of them had gone and I was told the authorities had quiet;y "culled" the herd --there were talks of bales of kittens being dumped into the lake.
The smart ones survived and began multiplying again.
And now in my Riverdale home I still leave out snacks for the ferals located in the back lane's wooden garages and storage sheds.
I got my first ever cat that way --a white number named Mustard born in the neighbor's garage. Their little girl presented it to my father one afternoon over the fence and told him if he refused the cute ball of fur would "be electrocuted."
Nothing like a scarey story to get a cat adopted. It worked and I had Mustard for 21 years.
Cat Crazed attracted me from the beginning but I also kept watching for Oscar-nominated animator Cordell Barker's irreverent cartoons on what a cat-dominated world might look like.
Originally scheduled for February, Cat Crazed got moved up in the schedule as the lead documentary on CBC-TV's Doc Zone. But it also comes out just as many families are deciding what exactly to do with that cute ball of fluff they received as a holiday gift now that it is chewing on electrical cords and sharpening its claws on the furniture.
Cat Crazed effortlessly draws us into the world of cats by showing felines in all their glory at New York city's huge Meet The Breeds Show. Finally cats are getting equal treatment with dogs in the areas of pampering. And some rare breeds of cats fetch prices in the thousands of dollars.
Those cats are at the top of the feline pyramid.
At the bottom are the homeless ones who are increasing in numbers to the point they are damaging bird sanctuaries in their fight for food.
We visit Washington where Alley Cat Allies are seen mounting a fierce campaign to sterilize all outdoor cats,
And in Los Angeles Fox Nations sends its volunteers out to prowl every back alley to trap and beuter cats --the alternative is euthanasia.
But we also visit a little old lady who moved to a home beside a bird sanctuary. So many ferals now haunt the swamplands she rarely hears song birds anymore.
Canada's largest no-kill shelter is in Richmond, B.C., and one old cat, Vulcan, has patiently waited for months to get adopted. Why nobodyy wants him gets me --it must be his age.
My favorite scenes are at Parliament Hill where a large band of loafers is glimpsed all over the place (I'm not speaking of Canada's unelected Senators but the feral cats).
So the problem is everywhere and deserves to be confronted. The question of whether to adopt or euthanize has already rocked the foundations of the Toronto Humane Society.
Anyhow, Palmer has held my attention for an hour with her judicious blend of fun and deep seriousness. She directed the program and wrote and produced it with Helen Slinger and mark this one as the first must-see of the mid-season.
CAT CRAZED PREMIERES ON CBC-TV ON THURSD. JAN. 6 AT 9 P.M. WITH OTHER SHOWINGS ON CBC NEWS NETWORK JAN. 7 AT 10 P.M. AND JAN. 9 AT 5 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Over the four decades I've been covering CBC TV the argument about drama series has always been the same.
It comes down to story line versus production values.
Veteran CBC producers would always point to the phenomenal success of shows like The Beachcombers as an example of a series that Canadians wanted to watch despite the meagerness of the usual production values.
But others kept insisting a CBC had to be as glossy and slick as a competing U.S. series. Hence CBC successes like Street Legal.
Indeed when it came to dramatizing a Calgary oil tycoon's family CBC preferred to shoot everything at its Toronto TV factory to keep the gloss as high as possible.
Or does anybody out there remember the resulting 1983 TV series Vanderberg?
And then along comes a CBC drama series as completely Canadian mandated as Republic Of Doyle which returns for its second season Wed. Jan. 5 at 9 p.m.
When I watch it I immediately think of that old U.S. show Harry O with a dash of Rockford Files added for good measure.
See, part of CBC's Canadian mandate is to make shows out in this vast country of ours.
Black Harbour was made in Nova Scotia.
Jinnah On Crime was made in B.C. as was Intelligence. These days Heartland does the trick.
Republic Of Doyle, however, can't be compared to the American competition because it very definitely is not slick.
Focus is on relationships. That and the beauty of St. John's Newfoundland.
It's not the first CBC attempt to mount a series from Canada's easternmost province.
Let's see the most recent example was Hatching. Matching And Dispatching.
CBC typically gives its fictional series two seasons to find themselves because the network hasn't the wherewithal to finance huge publicity campaigns. So the fact Republic Of Doyle is into its second season doesn't mean it's in the hit status. As yet.
Allan Hawco who co-created the series stars as bantam detective Jake Doyle who is a 30-year old detective in partnership with his old dad Malachy played zestfully by scene stealing Irish character star Sean McGinley.
They're the Odd Couple of the detective world.
Jake is all bluster while Malachy is more meticulous and is recovering from delicate heart surgery.
Then there's Mal's gal pal Rose Miller played warm and winningly by Lynda Boyd. Jake's ex-wife Nikki is played by a real looker, Rachel Wilson. And there's Tinny Doyle who is Mal's 16-year old granddaughter (Marthe Bernard).
So it's quite a menagerie. And plots are focused on the eccentricities of this clan.
Jake is the leader of this pact. He's a heart throb to the lades but gets a bit of acting mixed into every story line, too. In the opener he even strips down to his undies and gives an elderly lady neighbor a bit of a thrill.
The catch word here is "lighthearted". One would have to be very desperate to hire these two detectives who spend more time arguing than settling down to crime solving.
Certainly the first new crime is nothing much at all, written in a wandering style by Hawco himself. There are any number of stops for characters to do their shtick and never do we feel anybody among the regulars gets really threatened.
The beauties of St. John's are amply covered and there's been an attempt to water down the accent so all Canadians can understand this particular dialect.
In its sleepy eyed way Republic Of Doyle tries to straddle that age old CBC controversy. It has a story line that dawdles all over the place but it's also right handsome to look at.
REPUBLIC OF DOYLE'S SECOND SEASON PREMIERES ON CBC WED. JAN. 5 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ***.
Monday, January 3, 2011
InSecurity is CBC's latest attempt to find a replacemet for the rapidly aging sitcom Little Mosque On The Prairie.
This decidedly hilarious spoof of such TV spy series as 24 premieres on CBC Tuesd. Jan. 4 at 8:30 p.m. and should not be missed.
Shot mostly in Regina, the half hour series focuses on the fictional National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) and stars Natalie Lisinska (Young People Fucking) as rookie agent Alex Cranston, a lush blonde who gets saddled with a particularly inept band of agents who can't shoot straight.
The cast also includes ultra handsome William De Vry (The Bad And The Beautiful) as her senior boss, a politically knowing bureaucrat named Peter McNeil.
Remy Girard (Les Boys) is the disillusioned veteran of the team, Claude Lesage, who during one tense situation frets that jis souffle might be ruined by too much physical violence.
Matthew MacFadzean (Human resource) is the totally inept young agent Burt Wilson who can't seem to do anything correctly.
Grace Lynn Kung (Being Erica) is the field agent Jojo Kwan, adept at kung fu and a CSI specialist.
And there's also Richard Yearwood (The Plan) as irrepresible agent Benjamin N'udu who gets so hungry on his assignments he might even eat some of the evidence.
Three comedy writers are the creators: Kevin White , Robert de Lint and Virginia Thompson --veterans from Corner Gas.
Together they've created a show in which the regulars try to act deadly serious as they mess up another assignment --there's a lot of comedy potential in the team's sheer incompetency.
Co-creator Kevin White toiled as a writer on Blackfly (2001-2), This Hour Has 22 Minutes (2001-07) and for five seasons on Canadian TV's most popular comedy series ever: Corner Gas (2004-09).
"On Blackly we just needed a bigger writing team and more time to do each episode --it had potential. On Corner Gas it all came together in exactly the right way." The convergence of great writing and a well chosen cast made this Canadian show far more popular than the competition from U.S. TV.
White then toiled on the first season of Dan For Mayor a series still trying to find itself but infinitely better than Brent Butt's follow up series Hiccups.
On InSecurity Lisinska is a real find as the cool blonde and she can do physical comedy as well as bat around the one liners. When she leaves open her team evaluations Burt thinks he's been given the best score not knowing that like golf the higher the score the dumber the agent.
In her first escapade Alex gets captured by a baddie who turns out to be an old flame from high school. When she asks about one victim "He went bald?" the baddie replies "Yes...I scalped him."
The CSI experts discover where she's been abducted by a half eaten pizza deliberately left on the trail. "Look at the bruising on the tomato!" wonders Benjamin.
When the pizza clerk is pressed to say who ordered the pizza she blurts out "This is so Law & Order!"
The second episode about capturing a gigantic Russian spy offers less fun although the guy who resembles the Incredible Hulk collects the teeth of his victim in a chain around his neck.
"In Russia they call me the tooth fairy," he grins.
CBC has such hopes for InSecurity it is giving the fledgling comedy a great spot Tuesdays at 8:30 following Rick Mercer who usually draws over a million viewers weekly.
All InSecurity has to do is hold three-quarters of those Mercer fans and it will emerge as a hit. A tall order? Yes, but one that seems to be within reach.
INSECURITY DEBUTS ON CBC TUESD. JAN. 4 AT 8:30 P.M.
MY RATING: ***.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Look, I know I'm late but here is my Top 10 list of what made news in TV terns for 2010:
1. CONAN O'BRIEN: The red head was dumped from his 11:35 p.m. time slot by NBC and told he'd now start at 12:05 to make way for Jay Leno (see below). So what did he do? He sulked and finally left the peacock proud network with some $45 million as severance. But now he's ensconced at teeny weeny cable outlet TBS and we in Canada are watching him at --get this --1 a.m. His ratings have tanked and I can find few of my friends who watch him anymore.
2. JAY LENO: NBC gave Jay Leno its coveted 10 p.m. slot in prime time and he just wasn't up for it. The ratings were infinitesimal and NBC affiliates hollered their 11 p.m. local newscasts were suffering. So it was back to the future with the Tonight show at 11:35 and Leno has been losing in the ratings race to Letterman.
3. CBC: The publicly funded CBC went on a binge of turning into just another commercial network. American imports like Wheel Of Fortune and reruns of Ghost Whisperer certainly jacked up the ratings. But arts programming disappeared and CBC's drama series had an odd American tone. So CBC dumped its English services head Richard Stursberg and began searching for a successor.
4. CTV: The biggest of the commercial webs went on a buying spree, lapping up the Citytv cable weblets but something called The Recession ate into profits and the forced merger with The Globe And Mail was finally uncoupled. And then president Ivan Fecan, Canada's most talented TV programmer valiantly rode off into the sunset.
5. MAD MEN: Still the best drama series on either side of the border, this one got ever stranger. Canadians keep asking me why can't we make a TV series up here half as good. But we did with CBC's Intelligence --and not enough Canadians tuned out their diet of U.S. shows to watch.
6. LLOYD ROBERTSON: The Iron Man of Canadian TV News was finally prepared to semi-retire but only after another year of helping his successor Lisa LaFlamme edge very gingerly into the avuncular role. CTV picked her over veteran Tom Clark in a widely discussed switch that industry prognosticators still buzz about.
7.GLEE: THe high school saga was a wild hit although better shows about high school like Popular and Freaks And Greeks have fallen by the way. But some critics think it may be just a little too popular. Episodes careen wildly from great to nearly boring. The highlight surely was Gwyneth Paltrow, the lowest ebb was John Stamos.
8. LOST: Did anybody out there understand the grand finale of this much watched hit. Oh, I get it, we were supposed to be confused. Conservative Emmy voters largely shut it out as per usual but for the final season the writing and acting were as good as it gets for network TV.
9.@:% MY DAD SAYS: It started horribly with Bill Shatner doing a made male imitation of Betty White. But sheltered behind Big Bang Theory it has kept going and sometimes is even passable these nights. By the end of the season it could be a hit on its own, stranger things have happened.
10. MORDECAI RICHLER: Sure, I know, he's dead. But the great Canadian novelist provided some of the year's best TV in the marvelous TV biography made with tender, loving care by Francine Pelletier. Watching it gave me renewed hope for the future of Canadian TV.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
A lot of big names in the entertainment community passed this past year.
JACKIE BURROUGHS, 71, was one of my favorite Canadian actresses. I used to hang out with her on the set of her biggest TV hit Road To Avonlea where she shone as the schoolteacher Hetty King. But she was outstanding in the Canadian movie The Grey Fox. I once startled her by saying my favorite Burroughs performance was in the amazing 1987 Canadian feature A Winter Tan.
SIMON MACCORKINDALE, 58, worked mainly in England but I met him once on the set of the U.S. series Manimal (1985). Later he had an idea for more co-productions between British and Canadian TV and starred in one such series shot in Canada Counterstrike opposite Chris Plummer. The last time I met him he scored a big hit in the 1999 Toronto made TV film The Girl Next Door, atypically cast as a suave killer.
BARBARA BILLINGSLEY ,94, was one of those great TV moms from the Fifties on Leave It To Beaver. "I never vacuumed in my pearls," she sniffed the one time I met her for lunch in Phoenix. Also present was her TV son Jerry Mathers and she even reached over and cut the meat on his plate. Just like a real mom would.
MAURY CHAYKIN, 61, I first met when he was promoting his marvelous turn as Hal Banks in the 1985 CBC TV film Canada's Sweetheart. But I admired Chaykin best for his Nero Wolfe TV movies shot in Toronto opposite Timothy Hutton. When I asked him if he got to keep his sumptuous wardrobe he laughed heartily and said "I wish!"
TRACY WRIGHT, 50, made every role seem alive. She could ace a spot on Kids In The Hall, make a lasting impression on Twitch City and even ace a star turn in the 2006 film Monkey Warfare and all with the greatest of ease. I remember seeing her on the Twitch City set but never talked to her. Silly me.
LESLIE NIELSEN, 84, was bemused by his late career change into a comic with roles in Airplane and Naked Gun. When I first interviewed him in the 1970s he was toiling away on a CBC drama. He'd starred in live TV, jumped to MGM and the sci fi classic Forbidden Planet but later in life travelled everywhere with his beloved whoppee cushion.
TONY CURTIS, 84, welcomed me to his suite at the Harbour Castle hotel and pointed to the row of wigs on his dresser, He was wearing his Liberace model--a white pompadour-- but he also talked about his years as a top movie star and the great films that included The Sweet Smell Of Success and Some Like It Hot.
PATRICIA NEAL, 84, had survived so many tragedies including a near fatal stroke that it was wonderful when she just smiled at me. An Oscar winner for Hud she made lasting impressions in The Fountainhead, A Face In The Crowd and Breakfast At Tiffany's. We met in 1979 on a Park bench on Front street as she promoted a Canadian film it urned out nobody would saw.
ROBERT CULP, 79, looked surprised the day I asked him if he really was set to replace Larry Hagman on Dallas if Hagman left over contract negotiations. Culp said simply "How did you know?" --he'd been asked but politely declined the offer and Hagman settled with CBS after all.
DIXIE CARTER, 70, welcomed me to her L.A. home as she was having her greatest success on Designing Women. Warm and winning she proudly showed off her family and said she wanted to sing in a Toronto supper club if I could find one.
MARK DAILEY, 57, was the voice of Citytv for decades. He knew Toronto inside out as few anchors ever do and delighted in exchanging gossip with me about what was happening in local TV circles.
PETER GRAVES, 83, was one of the first TV stars I ever interviewed in Hollywood. It was on the set of Mission: Impossible and he was everything you'd want in a TV star: kindly, handsome and a far more versatile actor than brother Jim Arness.
LYNN REDGRAVE, 67, showed me around the set of her 1979 CBS sitcom House Calls. Weeks later she was fired from the series for breast feeding her daughter and pluckily sued an won. After all she was a Redgrave from a grand theatrical tradition and star of such British classics as Georgy Girl.
HELEN WAGNER, 91, had already been a star forever on the CBS soaper As The World Turns when I came o to the set one day for a look see. What a thrill to meet the actress who had with the show since 1956 and wound appearing for 13,782 episodes. She died in May months before the long running serial was finally cancelled.
GARY COLEMAN, 42, had a life of supreme unhappiness. I saw the way he was demeaned on the set of Diff'rent Strokes and after childhood passed he could no longer get work. His tragedy was am inability to grow because of kidney problems.
ART LINKLETTER, 98, was already a good age when I interviewed him on a Toronto street in the Seventies as he filmed a commercial for aspirin. And above all he was vastly proud to be a Canadian.
MURRAY CHERCOVER, 80, helped steer CTV through several decades of growth as Canada's first private network. He'd joined CBC-TV when it went on the air and directed dozens of TV dramas before defecting to the newly formed CTV in 1961.